Dominick Cruz has displayed a knack for elusiveness like few other. | Photo: Dave Mandel
The bantamweight title is on the line Saturday, as champion Dominick Cruz defends against the talented Demetrious Johnson in the UFC Live 6 main event at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. In a bout that will hopefully showcase the 135-pound division, Cruz looks to make the fourth defense of his title and his second inside the UFC.
In the co-headliner, a heavyweight collision of disparate proportions is on tap in Stefan Struve-Pat Barry. Both men are coming off crushing knockout defeats and will look to get back in the win column in a bout that should be as exciting as it is visually unique.
Here is a closer look at the UFC Live 6 main card, with breakdowns and picks.
UFC Bantamweight Championship
Dominick Cruz (18-1, 1-0 UFC) vs. Demetrious Johnson (9-1, 2-0 UFC)
The Matchup: In decisioning Urijah Faber at UFC 132, bantamweight champion Cruz scored the most significant win of his career and avenged his sole loss in the process. Utilizing the trademark movement and creative combinations that define his standup style, Cruz showed a technical mastery of range, timing and distance on the feet that few fighters come remotely close to possessing. However, the downside of a points-first, damage-second approach is that he almost always wins by decision, a fact which could create something of a marketing conundrum for the 26-year-old titleholder.
Johnson is a whirling dervish and an inspiring figure, namely because he is almost always the smallest guy in the fight and yet attacks opponents with a combination of pace and intensity that is hard to match. “Mighty Mouse,” a mere 5-foot-3, closes the gap on opponents in a manner reminiscent of fellow bantamweight Joseph Benavidez, exploding into them and consistently winning the exchanges and scrambles he creates. In his decision over former champion Miguel Torres at UFC 130, Johnson did not do a lot of damage and some felt Torres deserved the nod from the judges. However, it was an impressive showing against a far more experienced and dangerous opponent, and it vaulted Johnson into this title shot.
Against Cruz, he faces an opponent who is exceptionally difficult to get angles on and one who uses his length and timing with relentless precision. It remains uncertain if there is a perfect game plan to beat Cruz, but past performances indicate the way not to do it: standing around and letting him close the two-step distance, create striking angles and then skitter away while the opponent punches at air. Cruz does make some technical mistakes standing, the most common one being leaning low to his left while exiting a combination attack. Even so, the openings are so fleeting that nobody has yet to fully exploit them -- Faber did on a couple of occasions, hammering the champion with stout right hands.
If you are going to beat Cruz, you have to accept the fact that you are going to have to pressure him and negate his range advantage by making him move backward, pinning him against the cage and forcing an insane pace to take away his movement and legs. You are also going to have to do it against a champion whose takedown defense, conditioning and ability to scramble are top-notch.
Johnson does not have the standup power to hurt Cruz on the feet with one shot, but he has a relentless approach that might fit this blueprint. In a five-round fight, that makes conditioning especially important, particularly if Johnson can make Cruz move backward and constantly circle away, which is more tiring than coming forward and pressing the action. This bout has the potential to be surprisingly technical and entertaining if Johnson is competitive, but it could just as readily become dull, repetitive and bad for Cruz if he is not pushed.
Standing around and waiting to counter Cruz is a poor strategy and has failed for a virtual who’s-who of the 135-pound division during his nine-fight winning streak. Johnson does not necessarily have to come out like Brock Lesnar mauling Frank Mir at UFC 81, but he should take the center of the Octagon in the beginning of each round and use his shortness as an advantage by constantly changing levels and threatening to shoot, even when he has no intention of doing so. That could induce Cruz to defend against a takedown instead of the champion setting up for one of his step-fire-and-slide-away combinations. Johnson has to take the fight to the ground and probably will have to do so half a dozen times or more to win, as Cruz excels at popping up to his feet.
A lot of dominoes have to line up correctly here for Johnson to win, and Cruz’s experience against tough, dynamic guys like Faber and Benavidez does not bode well for the challenger; he lacks the standup ability and raw power both of those men possess. Cruz will pick, peck and poke in the early rounds, scoring points and winning on the cards. Expect him to put Johnson inside the tactical box he puts most opponents in, too vexed to land standing and too distant to unleash credible takedown attempts that he can finish.
The Pick: Cruz by decision.
Continue Reading » Next Fight: Stefan Struve vs. Pat Barry